Transnational Biographies Across the Desert and the Sea: Migrants' Memories of Mediterranean Crossings

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Seminarraum Geschichte 1 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Monica MASSARI, University of Naples Federico II, Italy

The dramatic rise of irregular migration between the two banks of the Mediterranean and from Syria and Afghanistan to the closest edges of Europe has recently re-acquired strong visibility in the public debate due to the enormous flows of refugees attempting to cross European borders in extremely dangerous conditions and the growing amount of migrants en-route who have died during the past few months.

Narratives that migrants interviewed relate, reconstructing their transnational journeys across the desert and the sea, naming places, events, feelings they went through during one of the most traumatic experiences of their life, cannot be disconnected from the shock that these memories still provoke and the feeling of disorientation that they induce in those who collect their tragic stories. Traumatic accounts given by refugees, by those who escaped from conflicts and persecutions, and by so-called clandestine exiles often recall the memories of those who survived the most notorious massacres of the twentieth century. Violence, humiliation and suffering that people experience on their journeys to Europe, not only require a critical synthesis of the historical and social matrices and asymmetrical power structures which contribute to produce the status of clandestinity and which have made the Mediterranean Sea a maritime cemetery. They also force social scientist to consider that complex social phenomena, such as irregular migration, lie within an intricate web of relationships and dynamics that cannot be properly investigated and governed without an adequate understanding of the subjective biographical experience.

Based on the outcomes of field research on the topic, this paper aims at addressing some crucial methodological issues involved in doing research adopting the tools of biographical narrations and life histories in the field of traumatic migratory experiences, trying to overcome widespread social representations of migrants as pure and naked victims of events.